Buddhists plan major center on Lake Santa Fe property

A Buddhist shrine located in a home which serves as a Tibetan Meditation Center in northwest Gainesville Monday, April 30.

DOUG FINGER/ The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 12:03 a.m.

Several years ago, one of the highest ranking Tibetan Buddhists in the world envisioned a retreat, monastery and teaching and meditation center close to Gainesville.

After several years of fundraising and a $1.275 million land purchase on Lake Santa Fe, the 17th Karmapa's vision is well on its way to becoming a reality.

Some Gainesville Tibetan Buddhists have plans to build a part-time residence, a monastery and a Tibetan cultural center for His Holiness Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, who some believe to be the second-ranking Buddhist to the Dalai Lama. The site is a 143-acre waterfront lot on Lake Santa Fe off County Road 1469 near Earleton.

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The Alachua County Buddhists who have led fundraising efforts for the project said when the Florida Tibetan Buddhist Center is built within the next several years, it will draw Tibetan Buddhists from throughout the world.

"The center will make Gainesville a large destination on the international Buddhist scene," said Angela Pate of Gainesville's Tibetan Meditation Center. "It will put Gainesville on the map for the Buddhist community, without a doubt."

Gainesville Lama David Bole, a member of the board of directors for the Florida Tibetan Buddhist Center, said the Karmapa laid out a vision of a cultural center that's open to the community rather than a secluded retreat.

The Karmapa has one monastery and part-time home in Woodstock, N.Y. This would be the only other center of that magnitude in North America, Bole said.

"We try to subdue our feelings of pride and attachment, but I am just giddy about the opportunity to draw so many wonderful teachers to our community," said Angela Pate's husband, Millard Pate, also with Gainesville's Tibetan Meditation Center. "This will truly be a gem for North Central Florida."

Florida Dharma Retreat Center Inc. purchased the lakefront property for $1.275 million in 2005, according to Alachua County Property Appraiser records. The property appraiser's office lists $494,700 of the land's value as tax exempt because it will be used for churches or another religious purpose.

The land encompasses roughly 400 feet of shoreline, Bole said. A sleek brochure advertising the project describes plans to preserve acres of organic blueberries and cypress wetlands.

Tibetan Buddhism is only one branch of Buddhism, and there are several sects within Tibetan Buddhism, making it hard to determine how many Buddhists live in Alachua County.

But Bole, who works with Buddhists throughout the state, said it's safe to say that Gainesville has one of the largest concentrations of practicing Buddhists in the state.

And Millard Pate said the 125 people who gathered to hear Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche, also a high-ranking lama, speak in Gainesville last weekend shows the prominence of the religion locally.

On Monday, Khenchen said he was impressed with plans for the center, saying it will be "a great place for everybody who desires peace and happiness."

"From my own point of view, that place will be very special," he said.

Gainesville's Tibetan Buddhist community is still working to raise funds to pay off the land purchase, Bole said. After that, the group will start working to raise tens of millions of dollars to build the center's facilities, which could include a meditation and teaching center, short- and long-term retreat cabins for visiting Buddhist teachers and other guests and even single-family homes for members, Bole said.

"We still have a lot of hard work ahead," Bole said. "We hope that within five years, at least part of the center will be open for the community to use."

There is another obstacle to the Karmapa's vision. His travel has been restricted since he fled Tibet for India several years ago, so Bole said there's no telling when he'll actually be able to travel to the Lake Santa Fe retreat.

The Karmapa currently lives in the Dalai Lama's monastery in Dharamsala, India.

But Bole said he has faith the Karmapa will find a way to Alachua County in the near future.

"When I saw the Karmapa in Dharamsala, he told us we would have success with this project, and that he yes, he would come here," Bole said. "When he does come, it will be more than a local phenomenon - it will be a national event."

Amy Reinink can be reached at 352-374-5088 or reinina@gvillesun.com.

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